A comment on this question led me to think. Why do one party states hold elections? And why is voter turnout so important to them?

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    If this question is genuine then it is too broad as there are many countries having a single party — possibly, plus a bunch of puppet parties that do nothing. If, however, this is a rhetoric question then the answer is trivial as well: to orchestrate the single party's apparent legitimacy. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 1:14
  • @bytebuster There being multiple countries with the same traits or behaviors doesn't make a question too broad. Can you imagine if we did the same thing in biology? "There are too many organisms that photosynthesize, so any question about why they all photosynthesize is too broad." Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 23:50
  • One possibility is that while there is a single party, there are not necessarily single candidates for each position. This seems to be the case in Cuba, where party organisation seems to not be connected to elections in the way we are used to. Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


Elections give legitimacy. Even if there is no other option, if you can report that the majority of voters wanted the dictator to stay in power, it looks better. The dictatorship can then claim to the international community that they have a free country following the will of the people.

The goal may be to give their own populace the illusion of a choice to quell dissent. Look up super-pac delegates to see how they affect primary elections. If the party controls who both of the candidates are, it doesn't matter the result of the election.

In extreme cases, the goal is to identify dissenters for secret prosecution. Germany wrote numbers using skim milk on their ballots in plebiscites. They numbered the voters as they entered the voting facility. Then they could know who was disloyal to the government.

Edit: Someone asked for sources. Here is a book by Michael Salter that describes this. His source is the International Military Tribunal for war crimes after WW2. I originally read it in William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which cites many sources.

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    Regarding the last paragraph: Which period of German history was that? Do you have more information on this?
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 8:44
  • I would guess perhaps during Hitler's rule... But yes, source required
    – xuq01
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 10:55
  • Yes, Nazi Germany. It is recorded in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
    – Vincent
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 18:28
  • Worth noting that the legitimacy isn't just from seeing that lots of people support the regime, it is an individual psychological trick as well. Surveys show that people who cast a ballot, even a one party ballot, feel more empowered in and connected to their political system after doing so.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 22:18
  • This is almost definitely the correct answer, but it would be improved by being backed up. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 23:48

I agree with Vincent's first point, especially the international angle. Elections is what respectable countries do, so the dictatorship holds an election. With "better" results than their democratic rivals. Other points:

  • The population is expected to come for a public show of loyalty to the ruling party. Doing so in a public way inures them to other forms of obedience.
  • Supposedly the North Korean elections serve as a census. Everybody is expected to vote, those who abstain need to be accounted for.

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